The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Mike Pound

June 2, 2011

Mike Pound: Youngsters send messages of hope

The cards vary a bit.

Some of the letters Lindsey Shull brought into the newsroom Thursday were crafted with an artistic hand. Others were simple handwritten messages of hope. Some offer words of encouragement, others offer words of sympathy, and still others remind us that — like all things — this too shall pass.

Since the May 22 tornado, the Joplin area has received thousands of cards, letters and emails from people all over the world expressing sympathy, and offering help and hope. Many times the messages have come from people who have no connection with Joplin. The messages come from people seeking to remind us that we are not alone.

The thing that struck me about the letters Lindsey brought in Thursday is that they were created by young people who likely have spent large segments of their lives feeling as if they were alone. Young people who, at one time or another, felt abandoned. Young people who thought no one cared about them.

Yet these same young people took the time to let the people of Joplin know that they care about them.

Lindsey works with the Flint Hills Job Corps Center in Manhattan, Kan. The center, which is a mini-campus, works with young people between the ages of 16 to 24. It teaches them technical skills, and helps them earn their high school diplomas or study for their General Educational Development tests.

Lindsey said the kids with whom she works have been dealt the proverbial lousy deck of cards. The kids are what are commonly referred to as “high risk,” which is a euphemistic way of saying they have everything going against them. They often come from poverty-stricken backgrounds. Many have been neglected. Many have been abused. All, at one time or another, have felt abandoned.

But the fact that they are enrolled in the Job Corps program means that they are refusing to give up. It means that they are refusing to feel sorry for themselves. It means that the words of support and encouragement to Joplin should carry some weight.

One card, from a young woman, sort of sums things up. She explained that she is about five months’ pregnant and living at the center with her fiance.

“My life has not always been this put together,” she wrote. “I’ve had to deal with physical and mental abuse from my own father. I’ve moved nine different times in my life, and I’m only 18.”

The young woman went on to say that while Joplin is going through a tough time, things will get better.

“There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a train,” she wrote. And then she added a postscript to her letter.

“Don’t stop believing.”

Is that great or what?

Another card on a piece of folded green construction paper has a heart with the words “I care” on the opening page. On the inside, the student wrote: “I’m from Topeka. I just want you to know that I care.”

A young man from Wichita Kan., wrote that “sometimes the greatest loss is the start of an even greater beginning. And often times the roughest times form a better person.”

One unsigned card simply states: “You are Loved.” Another card adorned with flower, butterfly and heart shapes says “I love you” on the cover, and on the inside page, the author has written: “I know it’s girlie. I’m sorry.”

Lindsey drove down from Manhattan to volunteer with the tornado relief effort. She met the Mills girls while all three were attending Kansas State University in Manhattan. Two other K-State friends of the Mills sisters already have been to Joplin to help with cleanup efforts.

Lindsey said the Mills family of Joplin is “like my third family.”

Katie and Sarah’s mother, Karen, said the entire Mills family felt compelled to help in the relief effort and has spent most of its time since the tornado struck helping with the cleanup.

I chatted with Karen, Sarah and Lindsey some on Thursday afternoon. Lindsey wanted to make sure that someone saw the cards she brought down. I told her I would drop them off at the temporary shelter at Missouri Southern State University.

Lindsey said she hoped the cards would do some good.

I told Lindsey not to worry.

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